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During election season every organized ethnic and religious group gains clout—it’s always fascinating to see how candidates, especially when they’re trailing or locked in an ultra-tight race, cast themselves as longtime allies of whomever they’re paying a visit.
It's just as interesting to see who doesn't bother to stop by.
Yesterday the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections cosponsored a campaign forum in a banquet hall on West Devon that got contenders for U.S. Senate, county board president, sheriff, judge, and water rec commissioner promising to look out for the rights and interests of Chicago’s Indian and Pakistani communities. It also offered them the chance to rip on their rivals who didn't show up.
Terry O’Brien, one of the candidates for county board president, lamented that traffic wasn’t backed up on Devon when he’d driven in. He blamed it on the county’s high sales tax. “People aren’t shopping here,” said O'Brien, currently president of the Water Reclamation District board. “They’re going to the suburbs and collar counties.”
The other challengers for the board presidency similarly tailored their stump speeches for the crowd. Circuit court clerk Dorothy Brown spends most of her campaign time highlighting her resume—she has degrees in law and business—and emphasizing that she’s achieved it all “the hard way”; this time she said, “Everything I’ve done I’ve earned, and I’ve earned it the hard way, the way many of you in this room have had to earn it.” She also noted that she has an office down the street. In addition to her usual pledge to root out corruption and waste, Alderman Toni Preckwinkle vowed that if elected president she would hire a workforce that represented the diversity of the county. Former state senator Roger Keats also promised to lower taxes and stressed that he was a member of a minority of sorts, being a Republican.
All four—along with event organizers—blamed incumbent Todd Stroger for high taxes, mismanagement, health care deficiencies, and just about every other problem short of the conflict over Kashmir. Stroger couldn’t defend himself, since he skipped the event after saying he’d be there. It wasn't the first time he's been a no-show at a candidates' forum.
Then again, he wasn’t the only one who’d taken a pass on yesterday's event. Cook County sheriff Tom Dart is expected to breeze to re-election and hasn’t been campaigning much. His Democratic opponent Sylvester Baker cast him as an insensitive jerk: “I respect the Muslim community, unlike my opponent, who isn’t here,” said Baker.
Senate candidate David Hoffman has taken to blaming greedy bankers for ruining the economy, which makes strategic sense since he's chasing former banker Alexi Giannoulias for the Democratic nomination. But this time he added a local twist. “I spent the afternoon walking up and down Devon Avenue talking to business owners, and they all told me that things are very, very slow,” he said. “There’s no question that when I talk to these businesses and talk to people who are out of work, the cause of this is the greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street of these banks, combined with Washington sitting on its hands too long.”
Hoffman rival Cheryle Robinson Jackson sent an aide to the event, but Giannoulias wasn’t there in person or by proxy, which was just fine with Hoffman. “I do think you can draw some conclusions from who comes before you to speak and to show some respect to this audience and who does not,” he said.